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Life Story / Obituary
For Shirley Olszewski, family and friends was the cornerstone for which she lived. Her greatest joy by far was the family she loved, and she worked hard to make a good and loving home for them. With a life that spanned times of war and times of peace; times of plenty and times of want, Shirley lived life doing what she loved most along with those she held dear by her side. A longtime Westsider where she formed many lasting friendships, Shirley’s care for others knew no bounds. She was an engaging woman who selflessly gave of her time and talents all while creating numerous memories which will continue to be treasured by those she leaves behind.
Shirley was born at a time when America continued to recover from World War I and was straining to rebuild its economy. Yet the nation’s can-do spirit was reflected in the fabric of the American culture as the Walt Disney Company was founded, insulin became available for diabetics, and when the eight-hour workday was established that year, manufacturing boomed. Yet for Fred Ellis and Ruth Elleta (May) Fox, nothing compared to their delight as they welcomed the birth of their little girl, Shirley May on December 23, 1923.
Born and raised in the riverfront city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Shirley was the oldest of eventually three children in the Fox household. She was later joined by her brother, Russell and sister, Gloria. While all three were close, Shirley and her brother always shared a special bond. To support their growing family, her father worked for the Wolverine Brass Company while her mother remained at home as a homemaker.
Raised on the West side of Grand Rapids on Turner Avenue NW, Shirley enjoyed a childhood typical of the times, sharing adventures with neighborhood friends. Priceless family memories were made enjoying their family cottage on Big Star Lake in Lake County, Michigan which had been in the family for five generations. Their time at Big Star was the perfect setting for long summer days spent swimming, fishing, and canoeing before evening campfires. They also enjoyed making day trips to visit extended family.
Shirley attended Grand Rapids Public Schools where she was a friend of many and liked school. She went on to graduate from Union High School where she was crowned the, “Winter Sports Queen”. An outgoing and fun-loving girl, Shirley liked sports and was athletic minded in school.
Sometime following high school, Shirley came to know love in the heart of Leo Olszewski while attending a football game. She had known of Leo during high school, but fate sparked a cord in both of them this fateful day. Even though Shirley had transportation of her own, when Leo asked to give her a ride home she couldn’t resist. Taken by her dark curls, sweet smile and dimples, Leo was head-over-heels for Shirley and the feeling was mutual. After a short courtship, the two were happily married on November 8, 1947, at Leo’s home church, Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Parish. To celebrate their union, the two set off for the windy city of Chicago, Illinois where they enjoyed a memorable honeymoon.
It wasn’t long after when the newlyweds moved into their forever home at 852 Lake Michigan Drive NW where they would spend the rest of their lives. The height of the Korean War, Leo felt the call to duty and enlisted to serve with the U.S. Army. While stationed in California and for a time overseas in India, he returned home to Shirley awaiting arms. To their union they were blessed with four children, Janice, Lynn, Karen, and David who added much joy to their lives. Shirley was a loving, exceptional mother who was devoted in providing a good home for Leo and the kids. He was the disciplinarian and Shirley would actually cry whenever their misbehavior warranted a spanking! Longtime parishioners of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church, as parents they were proud to have raised their children in the Catholic faith and with the firm foundation of a Catholic education.
A meticulous house cleaner, Shirley’s home was well organized and extremely clean! If someone moved something out of place, Shirley knew and would quickly, yet quietly return it to its proper place. She enjoyed her collectable, decorative dolls, her many Christmas tree ornaments which held special meaning to her and she liked decorating with an “oriental flair”.
Shirley made delicious meat and potato type of meals for her family and anyone who joined their table. Her potato salad was the best, and she was an excellent baker of coffee cakes and scrumptious apple pies. In earlier years, her father often brought over fresh apples with hopes of her making him a pie! Shirley had a sweet tooth of her own. There was always candy and other treats around and she loved going to the bakery for fresh donuts, although she’d often share half or save it for later.
There were many things Shirley took interest in. She loved the sounds of Big Band music and liked watching Lawrence Welk. As an adult she appreciated cultural events like attending professional plays at the Grand Rapids Civic Theater or the Symphony Pops Concerts in downtown Grand Rapids. Even though Leo didn’t care for these types of events as much, he was always by Shirley’s side as she thoroughly enjoyed them.
Shirley gave of her time as an avid volunteer fund raising for the March of Dimes, doing work for the Santa Claus Girls and through her involvement with the Catholic Daughters at church. She was a beautiful knitter of treasured Afghans, sweaters, knit hats and scarves. She always made hats and mittens to keep her family, friends and neighbors warm during the cold Michigan winters. In fact, Shirley loved knitting baby hats to be given to the premature babies born at the local hospitals.
In her free time, Shirley enjoyed working in her gardens, golfing and bowling, too. She liked going to the area casinos to try her luck, and she loved playing bingo at the Westside Complex Senior Center. Shirley shared great times as a member of an informal club called, “The Hen Club” with her women friends. They’d often meet to play cards and socialize.
Shirley watched over the home front and enjoyed her position as a sales clerk at Bridge Street Electric for many years until eventually retiring. Once retired, Shirley and Leo fulfilled their lifetime dream of visiting the Hawaiian Islands not once, but twice. They also took in the sandy beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama, and a wonderful trip to Mexico in addition to many trips around the beautiful state of Michigan, enjoying all it has to offer.
When Shirley suffered her first stroke in 2009, Leo was there by her side lovingly tending to her needs. While it may have her slowed her down some, she did her best to remain active and engaged in a fulfilling life. This determination, along with the support of her family and friends helped Shirley when her beloved Leo sadly died in December of 2016.
Shirley counted her greatest joy and blessing as the family she held close to her heart. With a grace all her own, she lived her life of caring with a grateful heart. An amazing and strong woman, Shirley loved fully, completely and unconditionally. For these things and so much more, she will be deeply missed and fondly remembered.
Following another severe stroke, Shirley May Olszewski, age 97, of Grand Rapids passed away Saturday, April 24, 2021 while in the comfort of her home and in the company of her family. Shirley was preceded in death by the love of her life, her husband of 69 years, Leo Joseph Olszewski; her grandson, Jeffrey Mikulski; daughter-in-law, Tracey Olszewski; brother, Russ Fox; and by her sister, Gloria Heyman as well as several brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law. She is survived by her children: Janice Vugteveen, Lynn Mikulski (Roger), Karen (John) Paulson, David (Cindy) Olszewski, 11 grandchildren; 26 great-grandchildren; many in-laws, nieces, nephews and friends.
The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated Thursday, April 29, 2021, 11:00 AM at Parish of the Holy Spirit, 2230 Lake Michigan Drive NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504. Relatives and friends may meet with her family Wednesday, April 28, 2021, 4-7 PM at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home-Alt & Shawmut Hills Chapel, 2120 Lake Michigan Drive NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504 and for one hour prior to the funeral Mass at the church. Memorial donations in Shirley’s name may be directed to the Lake County Community Foundation, 4424 W. 48TH Street, Fremont, MI 49412.
Shirley’s family would like to express their appreciation for the many caregivers who compassionately cared for Shirley during the last years of her life, especially to Phyllis and Becky. To read more of Shirley’s life, share a memory or to sign her online register book, please visit www.heritagelifestory.com.